Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Got game!

Battlelore bonanza! #2: DHL delivers days later

Still flushed from the excitement of DiceCon the day before, I checked my inbox last Monday to find an email from DoW informing me that my preordered copy of Battlelore- complete with my 2 free promotional miniatures- had been shipped 2 days previously. Making haste to the tracking site via the enclosed link I found that the package was sitting in a depot somewhere in Germany. You can be sure that I checked that URL several times daily thereafter, labouring perhaps under the obscure superstition that I might thereby somehow speed the precious cargo on its way!

The game finally arrived on Friday morning; very timely because Bill was due to visit on Saturday. A serious gloat later I set to work. Taking a hint from Tom Vasel in his review over at the The Dice Tower I bagged-up the miniatures: they are presented in lidded plastic storage trays which are at least as fiddly as they are nifty. And I followed the advice posted by DoW on how to fix the miniatures bent by the sheer weight of the contents stuffed into the box (a good reason for dispensing with the trays in favour of alternative storage). This very necessary task (some of my heavy cavalry miniatures were so bent as to be lying flat) proved even easier than the DoW webpage makes it appear.

Bill and I got 4 games in on Saturday. Our games at DiceCon having convinced us that it is the Lore scenarios that make the game, we decided to find out how the goblins and the dwarves played. So we began with scenario 6: A Complex Web.

To save me repetitive reminders you can find an explanation of the various symbols on the DoW site: the Battlelore Primer- handy downloadable introdction, and the Battlelore Chronicles- the dedicated blog which has tantalised so many of us in recent weeks. Beyond that I just need to add that the round badges denote the dwarfs (white saltire on blue background) and the goblins (the yellow thingummy on a dark red background), and that the singular green banner surrounded by the dwarves denotes the giant spider. Dwarves and a giant spider on the same side? Well that's mercenaries for you I guess.

Two easy victories for Owain the Red Hand later we'd concluded that the key to this scenario was saving the goblin wing of Edward of Woodstock's army from a fearful rout. Rising to the challenge, I resorted to driving Woodstock's human troops towards the right of the Red Hand's line.

I took a leaf out of Bill's book by using Greater Portal to bring one of Bill's heavy cavalry units right in among my goblins so that my hobgoblin lizard riders could surround it and ride it down, while my other cavalry got stuck in on my left. A brutal exchange of cavalry charges ensued with the result that I had cleared the Red Hand's right flank. The giant spider scuttled out to try to retrieve the situation for Bill, to no avail. My troops, battered after their hard-won local victory, withdrew so that Bill couldn't easily just send out a unit in a sneak attack hoping for an easy victory banner or two.

I wasn't having everything my own way though, and we were pretty much neck and neck as we entered the end game, which was fought around the centre/left of the map as Bill's dwarves marched forwards in search of victory. Luck was with me in the end and Woodstock's army proved triumphant, although it was a very close run thing.

For our final game we wanted to see what happened with a fuller range of Lore cards available, which took us to scenario 7: Crisis in Avignon.

Playing the English I began by positioning my archers to fire at Sire Arnoul d'Audrehem's medium infantry by the river bend. I was hoping for a quick kill to weaken d'Audrehem's left wing so opening up the possibilty of seizing the bridge which offered me a victory banner.

The best-laid plans doing what they always do, the battle soon took a different course, devolving into a bitter nip-and-tuck melee in the area bounded by the 3 hills straddling the section divider away from the river. The raging battle again saw careful manoeuvring as Bill and I sought to maintain our own formations while looking for weaknesses to exploit in the opposing lines. A heroic stand by one of Bill's medium infantry units reduced to a single model almost saved the day for d'Audrehem, but I won in the end in yet another near thing.

And that was it. Eight games played, and I'm feeling that I've got to grips with how the new elements in Battlelore affect the gameplay. As with the move from M44 to C&C:A the changes are subtle but decisive, giving Battlelore its own dynamic and set of challenges. I'll give a rundown of those changes and how they work just as soon as I can. ;)

Monday, December 04, 2006

DiceConEast 2006

Battlelore bonanza! #1: DiceCon dishes it up first
As I noted last week, I was expecting a bumper day of games at DiceCon over in Edinburgh, and boy, did I get what I was asking for! Registering upon arrival I couldn't help but ask Ellis Simpson- con co-organiser- if he'd managed yet to get hold of a copy of Battlelore, Days of Wonder's hotly anticipated new iteration of Richard Borg's acclaimed Commands and Colours system.

I'd asked more in hope than in expectation, hoping that Ellis might've been on some inside track to pick up a prerelease copy and, well, because (as regular readers will need no reminding) I have a reputation to maintain as an enthusiast for the most exciting boardgaming system I've seen in years. Imagine my surprise then when Ellis replied that Gordon Lamont- the 'co' in co-organiser and one half of the dynamic duo which is Fragor Games- had actually managed to bring a copy back from Essen. Imagine too the idiot grin plastered across my face as I scurried (yes, scurried!) to lay claim to this unforeseen box of wonders before it could escape my clutches. And cast your mind back, dear reader, to a moment of this ilk of your own to taste the delight that was mine to savour as I passed the day at DiceConEast 2006 immersed in this great game.

Here's a slightly blurry phone-camera picture of yours truly enjoying setting the game up (thanks Bill).

Fragor Games, the SBGA and DiceCon are clearly keeping Gordon a busy man: he'd only had time to open the box for a look inside, leaving the contents still sealed in their cellophane. Pausing only to double-check it was OK to crack everything open (a bit of a no-brainer to be sure, but I'm one of those gamers who's a bit weird about cracking his own games open first...), Bill and I set to the first scenario with a will.

Having given France back to the French at Agincourt, I then faced off against Barry- one of several gamers attracted to the spectacle of Borg's latest in action- in scenario 5: Wizards and Lore, which introduces the Lore (ie. magic) rules.

I lost this game thanks to a premature attack up the centre which was easily repulsed, and to Barry's rock solid play- especially his excellent use of his Lore; both of which left me flailing in a game of catch-up through most of the game. This was made all the harder by Barry's strategy of standing-off and raining magical death down on my units from afar, which made it impossible for me to close for melee without running the very real risk of simply being crushed by Barry's counter-attack. I was finished off thanks to a stroke of bad luck when I rashly left a single model open to death-by-plinking from Barry's archers the very turn before I was ready to unleash my own potentially game-saving Lore attack. Talk about a learning curve!

These 2 defeats under my belt I managed to squeak a win against Bob in the same scenario. Undaunted by this turn in my fortunes I went down to ignominious defeat against Bill in a 3rd play of the same scenario, thanks to a sound plan well executed on Bill's part, and to some frankly appalling Lore management on my own. A veritable hail of death from his archers (green pennants with bows on the left and right sections at the top of the map) aside, Bill's game was noteworthy for his very clever use of a Lore card- Greater Portal. This enables you swap the position of 2 units anywhere on the board. Bill used this to swap one of his medium cavalry units (blue standard with horseman) with one of my units. Arriving behind my lines, Bill's cavalry unit ran riot at great cost to my forces. I was impressed, and mortified.

I swear that I didn't hog the game all day on purpose: I did offer to let others play, honest! Maybe I looked like a good mark or something. Whatever. You can be sure though that I had a great time discovering that Battlelore easily lives up to the hype, delivering a whole new game that is neither just M44 with the serial numbers filed off, nor merely C&C:A with bells and whistles. Bill, Barry and Bob were very impressed too.

It was also great meeting Barry and Bob. It turns out that they're just 2 of a group of gaming buddies who play Commands and Colours regularly. As fun as it was to chew the fat with other afficionadoes, I was also encouraged by the prospect of C&C events at future DiceCons. Not content with this, it turned out that Bob and I had actually gamed together before, some 20-odd years ago. He used to work in the old Games Gallery in Edinburgh- my first FLGS- and we'd got together to play John Hill's classic WW2 tactical boardgame Squad Leader. Neat, eh?

On top of all this fun, I also managed to maintain my tradition of not winning a thing in the regular DiceCon entry-ticket raffle. This was all the more spectacular this time because everyone else with whom I was there- Bill, Antony and Donald- walked away with a prize. Antony in particular lucked-in, going home with a copy of Avalon Hill's Axis & Allies: D-Day. With prizes numerous, and as grand as this maybe I should be saying that 'my day will come', but who's to argue with tradition?

The pleasures of the day were rounded off by the presence of a French market just round the corner from Overseas House. I couldn't resist the lure of the fromagier, where I picked up a wedge of a perfectly ripe Brie at a very reasonable price. Eaten on oatcakes and washed down with a cheap red plonk, this later proved to be a delicious end to a fine day out.

So thanks to the lads for getting me up, out and off to Edinburgh, and to Ellis and Gordon for all their hard work in running DiceCon. And of course, a special thanks to Gordon for bringing Battlelore because he knew that there'd be someone there to appreciate it. See you all again next year I trust. ;)